Unless you want SACD (Super Audio) or HDCD (High Definition) which are also available at Best Buy, generally speaking there is no such thing as a better quality CD. They are all the same. There are the occassional collector CDs made from other materials like gold, but not for the mass market.
EMI's "Recordings of the Century", Decca's "Legends", Sony Music's 20bit re-issues, and DG's "The Originals" sound pretty good (DG is variable). But that's classical. What do you listen to?
It depends on your taste in music. Mine is rather eclectic, so I'll recommend two labels I enjoy. Acoustic Disc and MA Recordings. They are both painstakingly recorded and offer outstanding sonic quality.
On the Talon Audio website (http://www.talonaudio.com/select.htm), there are lists of "expert selections." Most can be ordered from amazon.com.
For the Rock & Pop genre, Mobile Fidelity (MSFL) gold discs (ultradisc) are about the best of the best. Unfortunately, the went out of business a while ago, so finding 'em can be tough and and paying for them can be even worse! They are getting pricy. Try "elusive disc", eBay, or half.com. DCC also produces gold discs...good, but in my opinion, not quite the sonics as MSFL. Japanese pressings are usually outstanding. Next on the list are German, Austrian, and Dutch imports. British imports' sonics run "hot and cold", but the quality is at least equal or better than American pressings. I have been really impressed with the Canacian discs that I have heard. Be careful of "Remastered" discs. Sometimes, they run compression at mastering, making the disc sound more powerful but losing micro-dynamics. I have a remastered Yes "Classics" and a Japanese version not remastered...the Japanese version wins hands down. STAY AWAY from anything marked CEMA or Sony Music Special Presentations...in my experience, both have nasty sonics especially on the high-end. If you listen to strings forget about CD format and go to analog...these instruments just seem to have an edge to them on CD that vinyl seems to get right. If you want to know about specific titles, you may e-mail me.
If you like Jazz you should definitely check out JVC's XRCD titles and Fantasy Jazz 20 Bit K-2 remasters (mostly remasters of old Presitige, Riverside, Contemporary, Pablo labels). I would also suggest some titles from the Groove Note label...specifically Kei Akagi "New Smiles and Traveled Miles" and The Anthony Wilson Trio "Our Gang" Finally the new Blue Note RVG Remasters are not too bad either. If you don't like Jazz then I guess I struck out. You could always try Mobile Fidelity and DCC...they have put out some excellent remasters of many popular/classic recordings. Good luck...
Mapleshade records, Audioquest, APO. You can find these CD's at amusicdirect.com, acousticsounds.com, mapleshaderecords.com.
Look for "Remastered", in general they will be an improvement on the original CD release.
Thanks for all your help. It looks as though MSFL & DCC are the way to go. I will probably look into XRCD also since I am a Jazz fan.
skidman: don't overlook some of the smaller labels, whose sound is consistently higher than average. for example, oh boy!, 4ad, ryko, rhino (especially re-issues), secretly canadian, acoustic disc and redhouse, to name but a few. i would also look for sony 20-bit titles, that offer superior sound quality. most mfsl cd's are, IMO, greatly overrated and over-priced. (FWIW, i'm a mfsl vinyl collector, with several hundred titles on my shelves.) you should also take care in purchasing japanese pressings; many are stridently bright. good hunting. -kelly
freeze them. according to a brit audio magazine. (fairly recent issue; last month maybe) you can freeze them in a household freezer for a week. then place them in your frig for a week. then put them in a cool place for 3 more days. (no i am not making this up) it is supposed to improve the sound by removing stress from the plastic. i have yet to do it. i am on an analog kick and listening to 500 new (thrift shop albums)....cleaning them is a chore. i also have most of the labels listed above...very good quality. even un-frozen. my modest analog set up kills any cd i own. good luck
I have found the concord jazz lable to be exceptional. I pick up any that I happen to find. I believe that the group "The Three" is on that label. I would get all that I can find! Chris
Skiidman, seems nobody has really approached the difference in CD reproduction which is the quality of mastering or remastering. Most pop groups couldn't care less about soundstage, imaging, full range and dynamics. The better quality CDs mention in previous postings have everything to do with production quality and control versus actual manufacture.
Labels are often an indication of quality as Windham Hill, Blue Note, Mercury, Shanachie to name but a few have taken time to actually produce a quality product throughout the entire process. Good luck.
skiidman. Higher Octave has really great recordings the seem to boost the output level. Also Narada they record in 20 to 24 bit. great sound